Royal Commission report day 37 page 18

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The Royal Commission evidence for 20/7/1881

(full text transcription)

(see also introduction to day 37)

[[../../people/peD_G/fosterMag.html|Mr William Henry Foster]] 'giving evidence'

13355 Do you know if there were very strong feelings of hostility evoked towards the Government by the sympathizers being brought up in the way they were—that is, among that class?— There must have been some feeling of the sort, but to what extent it prevailed I do not know. I know the sympathizers themselves were very indignant at their detention; one of them threatened me in this court.

13356 Have you any suggestions that you think would be valuable that you could offer to the Commission, in case there should be another outbreak, as to the course that ought to be pursued?— My opinion is this—that, in order to prevent such an outbreak, parties—say four to six constables—should be stationed at places so that they could communicate from time to time with each other. They might patrol the districts where it was expected anything of that sort might break out, and not less than four men should go together.

13357 Have you seen the progress report of the Commission—we have already recommended that the police should regularly patrol the districts, and meet at certain points, and exchange intelligence?— That is my own idea.

13358 And Mr. Montford, I understand, is now acting on that, so that they will become acquainted with the place and people?— Exactly; and be in frequent and easy communication with each other.

13359 Have you seen anything that leads you to suppose that there is a likelihood of another outbreak?— No, I have not.

13360 The people themselves are perfectly quiet, as far as you know?— Yes. It must be borne in mind that the Kelly country, so called, is not in Beechworth, and this place was not so frequently visited by them.

13361 They were a good deal about Sebastopol ?— Yes.

13362 Is it your opinion that there are a sufficient number of police in the district just now?— I am not aware of the number.

13363 There is not anything else you wish to say?— I can, if you wish, give some information as to the Sebastopol affair. I was the first man there after the murder. It was on the Sunday, about a little before one o'clock , Mr Cheshire , who was then in charge of the telegraph station here, came to me. He was very much excited, and said, “The Kelly gang have shot one of the watch party down at Sebastopol,” he called me out first and said this privately, and I said, “One of the police?” And he said, “No, a man who is helping.” I said, “Would you know his name if you heard it?” and he said “Yes.” I said, “ Aaron Sherritt ,” and he said, “Yes, Aaron ; that is the name.” I knew he was operating with the police, and it occurred to my mind he would be the man. I enquired where it was, and immediately ordered a vehicle, and took down the clerk with me and my papers, and got to the spot as quickly as possible. When I got there, I found a crowd of about 100 or 120 men, women, and children about, and the hut closed. I demanded admission. I announced that I came there as coroner, and was admitted by the police, and went into the hut, and found it in darkness or almost dark. I asked for a light—no, first the question I asked was, “Who is in charge?” and one of the constables said, “I am.” At that time I could not make out one man from the other. I said, “I want a light.” He said, “Well, we do not care much about a light here, sir.” I said, “Well, you must get it.” A light was then procured. While the light was being got I said, “Where is the body?” and one of them said “You are almost standing on it.” I turned round, and by this time my eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and I saw the corpse close to me. I distinguished the man's teeth, and one of his eyes, all the rest was blood. I then interrogated the men there, two or three of them, and I also spoke to Mrs. Barry , made such enquiry as I could. I cannot remember exactly what questions I put, but they were with the object of ascertaining how the thing occurred, and how it came that the police had not made any attack upon the Kellys . I should like to explain that—I drew this sketch of the building just now. I would like to explain the position of parties.—[ The witness handed in the same and explained it.]—My opinion is, had the men made a rush and gone out they would have met a certain death, because those men had only to step a yard or two back and they would be invisible on account of the darkness of the night. The police would naturally suppose there were four outlaws there. This room, according to the enquiry I made immediately after, had had a bright fire in it, and a lighted candle. One of the constables stooped down and pointed to the left eye of the corpse and said, “That is where he got his death wound.” As a matter of fact I learned at the inquest that he received two shots; one entered just above the collar bone and passed backwards through his body, the other went in just above the navel and broke two ribs and went through the kidney. I took that to be the second shot, and he fell back then. As a matter of fact he had no wound in the head at all, but it looked just as if that was where he had been shot, as it was covered with blood.

13364 Were all the four constables in the room at that time?— I could hardly see when I entered. It would be about a quarter to two when I arrived.

13365 What made it dark?— There was only a small window, and, if I recollect rightly, it was covered with calico, not glass. Before I left the hut I made what enquiry I could, and asked the men if they wanted anything, that I was going back to-Beechworth and could convey any message, and they said no; and I said also to one of the men, “I feel sorry for you men, you seem to have been caught in a trap”—I think those were the words I used— “without any show”; and the constable I spoke to said, “Thank you.” I was struck with the position myself; they were placed at great disadvantage.....

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